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According to the BC Wine Institute (BCWI), BC’s cool-climate grape crop is on track for another excellent vintage this year. Hot and dry conditions in the spring led to the earliest bud break on record and the earliest harvest ever for some wineries in the Fraser Valley, Vancouver Island and the Okanagan. The low average temperatures and high rainfall allowed BC grapes to have more time to ripen on the vine and to accumulate flavour and aromatic compounds. This contributes to wines that are fresh, complex and balanced with higher acidity that make them versatile food pairings.
On Vancouver Island
Bailey Williamson, winemaker for Blue Grouse Estate Winery in Duncan on Vancouver Island, is expecting another excellent harvest at the Cowichan Valley estate. A strong growing season in April and May, followed by a cooler June and July than the previous year, led to an elongated flowering and fruit set cycle and allowed the grapes to mature and ripen to classic levels. The Blue Grouse harvest started on September 10, beginning with the popular Siegerrebe, an aromatic white varietal which tends to ripen earliest. After that, there will be a break in harvest until the end of September, when the rest of the grapes will be harvested in earnest. Compared to all the vintages since 2012, this year’s harvest started within a week of normal.
In the Fraser Valley
Conditions on the mainland were similar to Vancouver Island. Andrew Etsell, GM and viticulturist of Singletree Winery in Abbotsford notes that with the warm and dry August, the grapes developed beautiful flavours with balanced acids and sugars. Singletree began its harvest on August 25 – one full week earlier than 2015, and the winery’s earliest harvest on record. “We started with our Siegerrebe, which is evolving into one of our most popular wines,” Andrew shares. “We’re also keeping a close eye on our estate Pinot Noir, which we have just harvested for our first-ever estate sparkling wine. Other estate varietals, such as our Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, Grüner Veltliner and Sauvignon Blanc, will follow after that. This year’s harvest will not yield as much fruit as 2015, yet the fruit will be clean and very high quality."
In the Okanagan - Naramata Bench
After an unseasonably warm spring, followed by an early summer, Serendipity Winery’s Katie O’Kell was concerned that the harvest would take place much earlier than normal at her estate Naramata vineyard. However, the cooler, wetter weather moved in, which allowed the grapes to mature a more moderate pace.
Serendipity’s harvest started on August 29 with Chardonnay and Pinot Noir and continued on August 31 with Viognier. With a dry and cool climate, the phenolics (flavour and aromatic compounds) will eventually catch up to the brix (a measure of potential alcohol) that is currently sitting in the low 20s.
Okanagan – South
Likewise, Lawrence Buhler, director of winemaking for ENCORE Vineyards, which produces wines under the TIME Winery, Evolve Cellars and McWatters Collection labels, is also in the middle of an active harvest. Compared to last year, Buhler and his winemaking team saw a two-day early start to the season on August 17. Harvest has almost been completed for the still whites, with additional harvests to take place in the next two to four weeks for red varietals.
Regarding the balance of the 2016 harvest, Lawrence says the reds are maturing well and the cooler weather is excellent for proper fruit development and sugar accumulation in the berries.
Harry McWatters, president and CEO of ENCORE Vineyards said recently to Global Television, “we had record-breaking temperatures in April and the earliest bud break that I’ve seen in my history in British Columbia. This is my 49th vintage in the wine business and I’ve never seen a harvest this early. What it does is even in the fringe areas, where the grower may be pushing their limit as far as what they’re growing or the amount of crop they’ve got, it gives them a bit bigger window to mature that fruit to its optimum level. It’s a good thing.”
Indeed it is, Harry. And although the wineries – from Vancouver Island to the Fraser Valley to the Okanagan – are right in the middle of an exciting harvest, we already can’t wait to taste the finished wines starting next spring.
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